Art comes out at Field Farm in Williamstown


WILLIAMSTOWN -- In the folly, bright panels of Modern paintings hang on the curved stone wall behind the couch, and anyone sitting in the round room looks out a broad window across the lawn, the pond and the hayfields. On the lawn bees hum in the azaleas, and a metal sculpture of a woman looks over her drawn-up knees to the mountain ridge.

Nature and art mingle at Field Farm. And this summer they will come closer together.

Field Farm will invite visitors with music on the lawn, tours of the modernist buildings and modernist art, art workshops and guided walks through the fields and woods to look for nesting bobolinks and kestrels, wildflowers and butterflies. This mingling is built into the house.

"Every door you open, you are drawn out through the picture windows into the view," said Ole Retlev, innkeeper of the Guest House at Field Farm. The Trustees of Reservations maintains the property and runs it as a bed and breakfast.

It began as a private home. Lawrence Bloedel came in the 1930s from Seattle to Williams College, Retlev explained. Bloedel loved Williams, and he met his wife, Eleanor, while he was a student there. They settled in Williamstown, and in the mid-1940s, when the Field brothers put this land up for sale, the Bloedels bought it.

To design their new home, they first contacted Frank Lloyd Wright, Retlev said. They liked the Bauhaus school and Wright's ideas. In post-World-War-I Germany, Bauhaus designs called for simple form, even to mass-produced standardization, and the school blended art with architecture. In America, Wright was developing a philosophy of organic architecture: Buildings should fit into the landscape around them -- they should act as part of the landscape. He also wanted a building designed organically, as a system with many parts, and every element part of the design, from windows to chairs.

Wright and the Bloedels disagreed on the design for their house -- the wanted to direct the plans minutely, Retlev said -- and they turned to Edwin Goodell, who worked for a firm outside Boston and had designed several buildings on the Williams campus.

But Wright's influence appears in open spaces and rooms flowing into one another, long flat stories and expanses of glass -- as in the wide windows in the curved walls of the folly, so that a guest sitting on the sofa looks out across the pond to the mountains.

And art blends with architecture and with landscape, said Dyan Wiley, Trustees of Reservations' engagement manager for the West Region.

In keeping with the spirit of the place, she has created and expanded a series of concerts, workshops and conversations about the artwork -- ways for visitors and locals to rediscover Field Farm this summer.

"It's so under-the-radar," she said. Family members who had grown up in Williamstown did not know how to find it."

Retlev agreed. Outside of regular visitors walking their dogs on the trails, he often finds that near neighbors don't know the property is there.

This summer, Field Farm will host concerts with Berkshire folk trio Wintergreen in July, Saratoga acoustic duo Rosary Beard in August, and Northampton pianist Dan Kennedy and cellist Stephen Katz in September. Kennedy is known for contemporary compositions in Windham Hill style, Wiley said, and Katz for mixing styles from East Indian sitar to jazz.

Beginning this weekend, Trustees volunteers Robert Gardiner and Roger Gutwillig will lead tours of the house and the folly, and on alternating weekends Sarah Margerum, public engagement manager at the Williams College Museum of Art, will add new behind-the-scenes tours and conversations about the Bloedels' extensive art collection.

Bloedel worked at Williams as a librarian, Retlev said. He loved books, and a Williams art professor, a close friend, encouraged a love for art. Over time, the Bloedels gathered a substantial collection of up-and-coming artists

When they died, they left half of their collection to the Williams College Museum of Art and half to the Whitney Center for the Arts in New York City. Field Farm has about 90 percent of the Bloedel's original furniture and 12 sculptures on the grounds, and in partnership with WCMA the Trustees rotate artwork into the public rooms of the Guest House and the Folly.

Now, on summer days, today's up-and-coming artists will work on his land.

Through IS183 Art school of the Berkshires workshops, students will walk the property, taking photographs in the early light, sketching the architecture, drawing the hills and concentrating on the veining in a leaf, the line of a stem of orchard grass, or the yellow pistils and corollas of golden rod.

If you go ...

What: Art, music, nature walks

Where: 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown.



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